Minor Issues When A Minor Gets Injured At Work
While not very common, if a minor is hired and then injured on the job, the trajectory of this particular compensation claim will be slightly different than the typical workers’ compensation claim. The most significant difference is that a penalty will be imposed against the employer if the employment of the minor is found to be illegal by the Workers’ Compensation Board.
Workers’ Compensation Law Section 14-a governs compensation issues when illegal employment of a minor is found. If, at the time of the accident, the injured employee is “a minor employed, permitted or suffered to work in violation of any provision of the labor law” compensation is awarded at a rate “double the amount otherwise payable.” (WCL Section 14-a). This statute gives the Board broad powers and essentially turns the workers’ compensation hearing into a labor law trial since Section 14-a indicates that double compensation is awarded for any violation of the Labor Law. Of note, this penalty is imposed against the employer, not the insurer.
The most common issue that arises is whether the claimant has “working papers”, which are issued by the Education Department of New York State for lawful employment of a minor. The working papers must be presented to the employer before being hired. (Labor Law Section 132). Before employment begins, the employer must file the minor’s certificate at the place of employment “so that it may be readily accessible to any person authorized by law to examine such document” (Labor Law Section 135). This means that the employer bears the burden of demonstrating that a copy of the working papers were on file. This burden is such a high standard that the employer will be in violation of the statute even if the claimant deceived the employer as to his/her age. Additionally, it is not enough for the minor to possess a valid certificate at the time of the accident.
Another less common issue that arises is whether the claimant was working outside of the rules under Labor Law Section 143, which governs what type and timing of work a minor is permitted to perform. The law promulgates different rules for when the minor is enrolled in school and for when school is out of session. When a minor is enrolled in school, the restrictions include how many hours the minor can work on a school day versus the weekend or holiday, how many days per week (only six days), how many hours per week (only 28 hours), or how early or late the claimant is allowed to work. If the minor is not attending school, restrictions include how many hours per day (no more than eight hours), how many hours per week (no more than 48), how many days per week (only six days), and how late or early the minor is allowed to work.
The best preventive measures that can be taken by an employer is to obtain a copy of the claimant’s working papers when he/she is hired to keep on file and ensure that the job the minor is performing complies with the Labor Law. It would also be prudent for a witness, such as an HR manager or office manager, to be prepared to testify on whether the working papers were on file, documentation of the date received, and details regarding the claimant’s work duties and schedule. To avoid deception by the minor about his/her age, I recommend requesting a copy of the birth certificate from the claimant to verify these details. Many pitfalls related to the legal employment of a minor can be avoided, or prudently defended against, with good record-keeping.